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Vicarious Liability 

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    Vicarious liability is the doctrine by which one person may be held liable for the wrongful acts of another person with whom they have a special relationship. Vicarious liability is an exception to the rule that the tortious acts of one person are ordinarily not imputed to another person. The doctrine applies to both negligent and intentional acts. Examples of special relationships which confer vicarious liability are parent and child, employer and employee, or vehicle owner and driver. Common types of various liability are respondeat superior and the family car doctrine.

    Respondeat Superior

    Respondeat superior is a theory of vicarious liability whereby an employer can be held liable for the tortious acts of their employees. An employer can be held liable for the negligence of an employee because employees are agents of their employers. In order for respondeat superior to apply, the employee’s tortious act must occur within the scope of their employment. In that case, the actions, words, and deeds of the employee are conducted in the name of or on behalf of the employer. For instance, if a delivery truck driver runs a red light and hits another car, the driver’s employer can be held liable for any injury to person or property suffered by the driver of the other car. An employer can be held liable for an employee’s tortious acts even if the employee has since left the company. 

    Respondeat superior imposes a duty on employers to exercise reasonable care in selecting employees and to monitor that their employees are exercising reasonable care in performing their job responsibilities. The rationale for respondeat superior is that while employers benefit from the work their employees perform for them, they should also bear the risk that comes along with retaining those employees.

    An employer may avoid liability under respondeat superior if there is clear evidence that the employee acted without the knowledge or consent of the employer, or that the employee’s behavior occurred outside of the employee’s scope of employment. Further, a person who hires an independent contractor cannot be held vicariously liable for the independent contractor’s tortious acts.

    The Family Car Doctrine

    The family car doctrine imposes liability on the owner of a car for negligent acts committed by a person they allow to drive the car. The operator of the car acts as an agent of the owner when they are driving the car, and thus the owner can be held liable for any harm the driver causes with the car. For instance, when a parent loans their car to their child, the parent is liable for any negligent acts the child commits while driving the car. However, liability can also be imputed to the owner of a car who lends their car to a friend.

    Examples of Acts That Can Lead to Vicarious Liability

    A non-exhaustive list of torts that one person can commit that would lead to another person with whom they have a special relationship being held vicariously liable includes:

    • Negligence 
    • Assault 
    • Battery
    • Harassment 
    • Breach of copyright
    • Libel
    • Slander

    Contact an accident lawyer, like one from Eglet Adams, for their insight on vicarious liability. 

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